The Whale From Free Willy Was Liberated After A Fan Campaign ... And Died Trying To Get Back To Humans
Free Willy and its sequels follow the journey of a young orca in captivity, and the humans who try to guide it to freedom. It was a massive hit. So massive, in fact, that it inspired an organization to free the whale who portrayed Willy, an Icelandic-owned orca named Keiko. The Free Willy-Keiko Foundation received funding from Warner Bros. studios, as well as from children and schools around the world.
With pressure building, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources worked to integrate Keiko back into the wild and orca society. It ... didn't work out. Released from Iceland in 2002, Keiko made a beeline for Norway, a nearly thousand-mile journey that was thought to be a search for its human caretakers. Once in Scandinavian waters, the whale refused to integrate into whale society. Trackers found that Keiko kept swimming up to boats and trying to interact with humans, who probably had no idea they were giving the cold shoulder to a film star.
Unwilling or unable to fend for himself, Keiko eventually died of a combination of undernourishment and pneumonia in 2003, less than a year after being released. But at least everyone involved learned a valuable lesson: Never try anything, because everything is horrible. The end.
Taylor Daine is an Indianapolis-based person who tweets at @turtledovejones. Rani Baker created the surreal horror video games DEATH SWORD and YOU CAN'T GO HOME, among others. You can keep up to date about her projects (and get free stuff!) on her Patreon. You can see Tiagosvn's depressing real-life epilogue to this article on his Twitter.
The guy who financed Keiko's reintroduction also had a terrible epilogue to this story too -- check out Money From Thin Air: The Story of Craig McCaw for more.
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